Our second look at the SEGA Sports series gives us a look at NHL 2K3. Last year we looked at NHL Hitz 2003 which whilst being a great deal of fun to play wasn't really Ice Hockey at it's most realistic. Of course Ice Hockey is a great game but few titles have managed to recreate the sport as it really is. NHL 2K3 probably comes as close as anyone so this is the ideal title for anybody looking for a real game of Ice Hockey.
Fans of the series will be pleased to know that a Franchise mode has been added to this year's version. The Franchise mode adds longevity to the game and means that you'll be playing it seriously rather than a quick game here and there. Other modes on offer include the standard Season, Playoffs, Tournament, Exhibition and Quick Game. Each player is rated in 50 different categories, which enables each player to a great sense of individuality. The special teams have also been revamped too for that extra slice of realism. You can choose to leave your strategies to the AI if you wish though.
What becomes obvious after only a few minutes play is how realistic this game seems. The goalies are great and whilst it's usually hard to score it's no more difficult than it would be in real life. I've never seen a goalie cover the puck so well in a game before, in fact come to think of it there are games out there where the goalie doesn't even do it at all. If you're going to beat the goalie you're going to have to treat the game as you would in real life and not like an arcade Ice Hockey game. The realism doesn't end there though. The puck movement and the movement of your teammates are particularly impressive. The control system is also great and it's a nice touch that you can modify so many of the moves. Whilst the game is definitely trying to be as real as it can be, the control system can be modified to make the game more arcade like if necessary but why buy a game as good as this if you intend to dumb it down?
NHL 2K3 may not be the best looking of the Ice Hockey titles but it does look very acceptable. The player animation's, particularly those of the goalies look very impressive and definitely outclass those found in other Ice Hockey games. The pace of the game seems realistic too but those who are used to the arcade Ice Hockey games such as Hitz will find the pace a little slow. The replays are very impressive too and they are actually interesting to watch.
The game has the same problems for deaf gamers that NFL 2K3 does. The commentary is not subtitled and any other verbal information is not subtitled. The game statistics are shown onscreen with the use of overlays and the information that you'll need is shown exclusively in text. I would say the lack of game ambience is less of a problem with NHL 2K3 though because of the game's quicker pace and more compelling gameplay.
This is the first outing for the NHL 2K series on the PlayStation 2 and it's a successful one. Rather than take the easy road and create a fast paced arcade experience, the developers have attempted to recreate the sport as fully as possible and for the most part they succeed. If you want to play an Ice Hockey game that plays like the real thing then this is the game for you.
Game Rating: 8.7/10